Before he started cooking, Andrew Koropatnick wanted to write film scores.

Before he started cooking, Andrew Koropatnick wanted to write film scores.

Chef’s Table

Click to Expand

Andrew Koropatnick
• Age: 29
• Restaurant: Oxbow Natural Wine Bar and Restaurant, 557 Osborne St.
• Signature dish: Alpine fondue kit and German pretzles

The 29-year-old head chef at Oxbow Natural Wine Bar and Restaurant grew up in a musical home. His dad’s extensive CD collection, filled with the likes of Steely Dan, Miles Davis, and Thelonious Monk, provided the soundtrack for his childhood. He started piano lessons at age four, picked up the guitar in high school and was playing trombone when he enrolled in the faculty of music at the University of Manitoba, where he dreamed of creating the kind of music that brought emotion to Hollywood movies, à la famed composer John Williams.

"The composition thing was always something that interested me," he says. "When I was younger I would watch movies and then try to recompose a different theme for it, I remember re-doing Inception."

The family home in St. Vital was also filled with handmade food. Eating out was a rarity for the family of four, save for an annual meal at the Old Spaghetti Factory in the Exchange District around Christmastime. "It felt extra special that year if we got a table in one of the train cars," he says.

The crockpot and bread maker were well-used appliances and his mom made dinner from scratch most nights — she was also known to share her baking and homemade casseroles with neighbours, friends and family.

Andrew Koropatnick with his signature dish, an Alpine three-cheese fondue with German pretzels.</p>

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Andrew Koropatnick with his signature dish, an Alpine three-cheese fondue with German pretzels.

Koropatnick admits he was a picky eater as a kid (eggs, especially sunnyside up, were a no go), but had a soft spot for his mom’s spaghetti sauce and his grandmother Mona’s beef noodle casserole — a combination of egg noodles and tomato beef sauce topped with white bread and "broiled to perfection." He also looks forward to his dad’s annual batch of Ukrainian beet borscht, the recipe for which has been tweaked and refined over the last 20 years.

"It’s hilarious, he only makes three or four litres of it a year, so I’ll be lucky if I get a peanut butter jar," Koropatnick says.

His interest in food eventually eclipsed his passion for music and he dropped out of university mid-semester. His cooking experience in the years since has been eclectic, to say the least.

After graduating from the culinary program at the Louis Riel Arts and Technology Centre, Koropatnick got a job at The Grove Pub and Restaurant before moving on to help build the food program at Fools and Horses. He cooked for large events at the Winnipeg Winter Club, worked a stint as a line cook at Oxbow when it opened in 2018 and learned how to brew "booch" at Prism Kombucha.

A part-time gig at The Roost on Corydon created an opportunity to return to Oxbow as head chef in October 2019 — both restaurants are now run by the same ownership group made up of young entrepreneurs Luke Joyal, Elsa Taylor, Isaac Hedenstierna and Caiden Bircham.

"I’ve got a little bit of imposter syndrome, so I listed off five other people I thought (Caiden) should hire instead," Koropatnick says with a laugh. "It feels like I got a little bit of a late start to cooking… I haven’t taken one path, so I wasn’t sure if I was ready to take this on as a challenge, but it was too good of an opportunity, so I pulled the trigger."

Andrew Koropatnick returned to Oxbow as head chef in October 2019.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Andrew Koropatnick returned to Oxbow as head chef in October 2019.

 

Eva Wasney

Alpine food is an interest of yours, what was your goal with the menu at Oxbow?

Andrew Koropatnick

It felt weird for me to come in and try and change absolutely everything.

We like to focus a lot on the natural wine and organic wine producers that have similar thoughts to what we have when it comes to food — that’s Austria, Germany, Italy, France... and you can throw Switzerland in there, so it made sense to make food from those regions. Those are also mountainous regions with lots of snow and long, cold winters, which kind of resemble our climate here as well. So in the wintertime, it’s always lots of melted cheese and breads and pastas and meats and then in the summertime we try to lighten things up with more vegetables.

Eva Wasney

Did you have to do much research into alpine food or were you already pretty well-versed?

Andrew Koropatnick

The timing actually worked out really well. My kind of (cooking) Bible is called Alpine Cooking by Meredith Erickson, which came out just that fall when I was offered this job. That kind of took hold of my brain.

Eva Wasney

Have you done any travelling in that area?

Andrew Koropatnick

No, but it needs to happen. I recently purchased some cross country skis, so I’m kind of trying to live the alpine experience as much as I possibly can. We do an event here every year called Aprés Ski, which is like where you get to go skiing all day long and come back to the chalet and drink too much nice wine and food. There’s something about that culture I really appreciate.

Eva Wasney

Is cross country skiing a thing you started during the pandemic?

Andrew Koropatnick

Well, (yeah) I think a lot of Winnipeggers have gotten on board with cross country skiing, which is amazing and awesome.

Eva Wasney

Do you have a favourite trail you’ve discovered?

Andrew Koropatnick

I went out last week to the Sandilands ski trail in (Marchand) Provincial Park. My weekends fall on Mondays and Tuesdays, so it works out well to drive out of the city and then there’s no one else around.

 

Massive German pretzels are the base of Koropatnick’s Alpine fondue.</p>

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Massive German pretzels are the base of Koropatnick’s Alpine fondue.

 

Eva Wasney

Oxbow was closed for most of last year, what has business been like lately and how have you found ways to adapt?

Andrew Koropatnick

It’s definitely been strange, a lot of our value as a restaurant and wine bar comes from being able to talk to our guests and discuss the different, interesting wines that we have. We haven’t been able to do wine, so we just have to really focus on food… that travels well.

Eva Wasney

And for you personally, what have the last nine months been like?

Andrew Koropatnick

When The Roost reopened, we actually moved our staff over there to accommodate as many people as possible. And I think we had our busiest summer at The Roost ever, which is wild thinking back on it now.

I’ll be honest about the first lockdown, I think a lot of chefs self-identify as being a chef and our self-worth comes from putting food on a plate and we get energy from feeding friends and family. Not being able to do that, you start asking yourself like, ‘Who am I? What am I supposed to be doing with myself?’ So, it was pretty depressing.

But, I think, along with most people during this lockdown, I’ve realized that there’s more to life than work and just trying to find other hobbies and things that pique my interest outside of cooking.

Eva Wasney

What are some of the hobbies you’ve been enjoying?

Andrew Koropatnick

I’ve been trying to pick up a few more books. I just read Eat a Peach by David Chang and a book I pick up periodically is Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

I used to play chess as a kid with my grandfather when he was still alive. I’ve been getting back into it, playing a lot of online chess over the last six months.

Eva Wasney

Do you still play any instruments that you grew up with?

Andrew Koropatnick

Our basement (at Oxbow) is kind of our play space… so actually during the first lockdown I brought my Telecaster here and played really loud in the basement. It’s funny, it was something that I just kind of put away and I didn’t really want to get involved with music for a long time.

Eva Wasney

What’s a favourite band or artist you like to listen to?

Andrew Koropatnick

Arcade Fire, Talking Heads, Thee Oh Sees, Mac DeMarco, Parquet Courts, Daft Punk, Brian Eno, Lady Gaga and Holiday by Madonna is in heavy rotation.

 

Koropatnick's fondue incorporates three cheeses — Gruyere, Emmenthal and Raclette.

Koropatnick's fondue incorporates three cheeses — Gruyere, Emmenthal and Raclette.

 

Eva Wasney

What’s your favourite movie or TV show right now?

Andrew Koropatnick

I’m currently watching Your Honor, which is on Crave with Bryan Cranston. It comes out every week and I make myself a big steak dinner and sit down and watch the show, it’s great.

Eva Wasney

On the topic of cooking at home, is there an ingredient you always have on hand?

Andrew Koropatnick

Kewpie mayo. I love to have like a chili crisp or some sort of chili oil. And I guess my guilty pleasure is frozen pork wontons. And an assortment of sparkling waters.

Eva Wasney

What restaurant are you most looking forward to eating a meal at after this is all over?

Andrew Koropatnick

The first one that comes to mind is Sun Fortune, they do a classic Peking duck and they give you all the fixings with the hoisin sauce and the little crepes. (Also) Dancing Noodle and The Palm Room at the Fort Garry for gin martinis. Just to be able to dine at a restaurant would be nice, even if it’s like Sargent Taco and you could eat inside instead of having to take it to go and eat in your car.

Eva Wasney

What has been your proudest moment as a chef so far?

Andrew Koropatnick

I think the best is yet to come. I’m thankful to be able to keep cooking throughout all of this. And I’m just proud of our team… we’re a relatively young restaurant group and all of my successes are because of the team and what we do together.

 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

eva.wasney@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @evawasney

Eva Wasney

Eva Wasney
Arts Reporter

Eva Wasney is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.

   Read full biography